USS Irwin
DD 794

The Ship and Her History  


On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and the United States was once again thrust into war. Over 110 mothballed destroyers were to be reactivated during the three years of the Korean war.

The USS. Irwin was re-commissioned on February 26, 1951 at Long Beach, California under the command of commander R. M. Keithly, USN - an experienced World War II submariner. Following sea trails and underway training out of San Diego, the destroyer sailed for the Panama Canal on May 12 and modernization at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

At the navy yard, the Irwin was upgraded with the addition of anti-submarine hedgehogs which replaced the forward twin 40mm mounts. The five torpedo tubes mounted between the stacks were replaced with quad 40mm mounts. Radar and sonar equipment were all modernized.

On December 16, 1951 the Irwin shifted her home base to Newport, Rhode Island as part of Destroyer Squadron 24. Her sister ships were the USS Preston (DD-795), USS Potter (DD-538) and the USS Picking (DD-685).

After shakedown cruises, the destroyer departed the east coast in January, 1952 to serve with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

As part of the relieving force, the Irwin participated in aggressor exercises with the current ships of the 6th Fleet. During nighttime maneuvering, the aircraft carrier Wasp collided with DMS Hobson. The Minesweeper broke in two and sank quickly with heavy loss of life.

Following a six month deployment, the Irwin returned to Newport in June to continue ASW training along the east coast with Hunter-Killer escort carriers.

In October, 1952 the Irwin took part in NORMEX 2 - cold weather amphibious training operations off the coast of Labrador. The Irwin patrolled during numerous periods of high winds and reduced visibility. The ship was frequently required to navigate in restricted, poorly charted waters. The Irwin performed without casualty under extreme cold and challenging conditions. The ship returned to Newport to spend Christmas, 1952 in the states.

The Irwin was ordered to Korea in early 1953 with a two-week preparation and provisioning period in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She sailed from Fall River, Massachusetts on April 1, 1953 enroute to join the 7th Fleet and the Korean fighting.

The USS Irwin arrived in Yokosuka, Japan on May 4, 1953 for a three day voyage repair period after her Pacific crossing.

On May 7, the Irwin departed Yokosuka enroute to join Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan off the east coast of Korea. The Task Force carriers were launching heavy air attacks against enemy positions as the ground fighting intensified during the "peace" talks at Panmunjom. The Irwin became part of the protective destroyer screen including duty as plane guard and various other tasks assigned to destroyers in a fast carrier task force. The carriers in her charge were the (second) USS Princeton (CVA-37), USS Boxer (CVA-21) and the USS Philippine Sea (CVA-47). The Irwin was now under the command of Commander Gilven M. Slonim, USN who had extensive World War II experience, including intelligence officer during the battle of Midway.

On May 12, three days after joining the task force, one of the carrier's air patrols spotted a small fishing vessel in the path of the task force. The Irwin was ordered to investigate. Many of these vessels were hostile North Koreans engaged in mine laying operations. With all guns manned and ready, the Irwin approached the suspicious boat. A thorough and cautious investigation followed, including a exchange of information in Japanese by Commander Slonim. The vessel, helplessly adrift for 4 days, was deemed a true fishing boat and taken in tow, food provided for its hungry crew, and returned to the friendly island of Ullung Do.

On May 19, the Irwin was assigned as escort for the USS Valley Forge (CV-45) on her return voyage from the combat area to Japan.

One week later, on May 27, 1953 the Irwin experienced her first direct contact with the enemy when she escorted the USS Manchester (CL-83) on a shore bombardment mission to Wonsan Harbor. The Irwin contributed to the success of the mission by adding the power of her 5 inch guns to those of the cruiser. On this mission, the Irwin was credited with the destruction of several industrial buildings, a bridge, and a number of military emplacements, and inflicting heavy damage on a second bridge. (The blockade of Wonsan became the longest naval blockade in US navy history.)

Memorial Day brought detachment from Task Force 77, and the ship commenced a two week upkeep period at Sasebo, Japan.

While in Sasebo, the Irwin became temporary flagship of Destroyer Squadron 24 with the arrival of Squadron Commander, Captain Jack Maginnis. His flagship, USS Preston, developed boiler problems and could not get underway. So Captain Maginnis elected to transfer his command to the Irwin. On June 13 the Irwin sailed to join Task Force 95, a naval shore bombardment support unit.

The Irwin relieved the USS Wiltsie (DD-716) and assumed patrol and blockade duties in the Hungnam area. Hungnam had been the scene of the massive withdrawal of UN forces following China's entry into the war in December, 1951. Two days later, on the night of June 16, while patrolling off Kotan Tan, the ship received its first rounds of enemy fire which were quickly silenced by counter battery fire, but actual damage to enemy installations was undetermined.

The following day, Commander destroyer Squadron 24 was ordered to assume command of Task Unit 95.2.1 which was engaged in blockading and patrolling Wonsan Harbor. This included furnishing gunfire support for UN troops holding strategic islands within the harbor and also cover for minesweeping operations being carried out in the area.

During the first full day of patrol, on June 17, 1953 the Irwin engaged in a furious gun battle with enemy shore batteries while operating in the area called "Tin Pan Alley." Irwin fired 120 rounds of 5-inch shells in an attempt to silence shore batteries threatening the Irwin and other destroyers. Air support was furnished by planes of Task Force 77 and the entire action lasted over 2 hours before the enemy guns were silenced.

The Henderson (DD-785) received some light damage from 80 rounds fired from the Wonsan batteries. The USS Irwin was called upon to lay a smoke screen to protect other ships and personnel. In the process, the smoke generator caught fire causing flames to leap high in the air. That evening Korean radio reported that a destroyer was heavily damaged by their guns.

The following day (the 18th) saw a renewal of the ship to shore battle, and before the enemy guns could be silenced this time, the Irwin suffered a direct hit on the main deck (near frame 42) near the forward 5-inch gun mount. The blast penetrated into the ammunition handling room and the CPO quarters wounding 5 men. The Irwin's long string of luck in the face of enemy action was at least partially broken.

During this action, the USS Rowan (DD-782) received 5 hits from approximately 45 round that bracketed her. One shell, thought to be a 155mm punched a two foot hole on her starboard side. Nine crewmen were wounded, two of them seriously. Daylight patrols were more carefully directed as ship to shore gun actions continued to intensify for the last two months of the war.

Shipfitters made all necessary repairs and the Irwin remained on station in Wonsan Harbor until relieved by the USS Lofberg (DD-759) on July 1. The Irwin then proceeded North to rendezvous with HMCS Athabaskan (DDE - 219) at Yang Do Island.

Later that evening, Commander Destroyer Squadron 24 relieved the Commanding Officer, Athabaskan as Commander Task Unit 95.2.2. The Irwin commenced patrolling the Northeast coast of Korea and furnishing gunfire support for UN troops on Yang Do Island. This assignment included patrolling the area from Songjin in North Korea to a point approximately 30 miles south of Vladivostok, Russia.

While patrolling south of Songjin on July 8, 1953 several small enemy surface craft were taken under fire by the main battery and destroyed. About 10 minutes later, extremely heavy fire from enemy coastal batteries scored a hit on the main mast severing cables and damaging radars, radios and other electronic equipment. Squadron 24 Commander Maginnis, directing the ship's counter battery fire from the bridge was wounded. Four other bridge personnel were also injured from the blast - one of whom was a visiting ROK naval ensign.

In the action, over eighty 76mm rounds were fired at the Irwin, many bursts coming close aboard. Irwin returned shot for shot from her 5 inch mounts.

The battleship USS New Jersey supported by cruisers St. Paul, Bremerton and Manchester were called in and fired on the shore batteries. These heavies and a dozen destroyers would go on to fire 13,000 rounds of 5-inch, 2,800 rounds of 8-inch, 700 rounds of 6-inch and 1,774 rounds of 16-inch gunfire into enemy positions along the bombline in the last two months of the war.

Captain Maginnis wounds were serious. HMCS Huron proceeded to rendezvous at top speed and transferred her doctor to render first aid. Captain Maginnis and another wounded crewman were later transferred to the USS Manchester (CL-83) for treatment.

Captain Maginnis required three subsequent operations before being returned to duty. He was the senior ranking US Naval Officer wounded in the Korean War.

It would develop that the Irwin would be the last ship to sustain casualties as the Korean War concluded nineteen days later.

On July 9, the Irwin departed the combat zone and headed for Japan for repairs. She arrived in Yokosuka on July 11, 1953. Ship repairs included work on the mast, shaft and propeller adjustments and boilers rebricked - all done by Japanese yard workers.

On July 27, the day before the Irwin was ready for sea, the Korean Armistice was signed. The cease fire took effect at 2200 (10 p.m.) on the same day. On the 28th, the Irwin sailed for Wonsan Harbor to assist in the evacuation of the harbor islands - the same area it had so vigorously helped to defend less than a month before.

In this effort, DesRon 24 destroyers were required to take under tow an overloaded LST that could not get underway. Red gunners could legally attack any ship still in the harbor after the agreed to deadline. The Irwin was the last to leave.

After escorting minesweepers to Pusan, Korea, the ship returned to Sasebo, Japan on August 5 and two days later sailed for Saigon in French Indo-China (Vietnam). The French were deeply involved in a terrible colonial war. The Irwin was part of a limited American "show of support" and slowly steamed up the serpentine Saigon river with guns manned and ready - and tied up without incident. After a few days of formailities and liberty, the Irwin began its return home.

The Irwin sailed through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea, arriving in Boston on October 2, 1953. To the surprise of the crew, family and friends, a navy band and fireboat honor guard were on hand to welcome them home.

Shortly thereafter, the Irwin entered the Boston Naval Shipyard for repairs and upgrade.


Operational Highlights (1943-1958)        Cold War Warrior
Admiral Irwin Awards
Central Pacific Action W.W.II Navy Unit Commendation
The Princeton Rescue Korea Congratulatory Dispatch
Korea USS Irwin Commanding Officers


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